Double British Champion sounds pretty good and to be honest it is still sinking in. I went so many years being a favourite or at least one of the front runners leading up to the Championship race and I had never even got a podium for one reason or another. Now having won two in a row just feels strange, a good strange but still strange!
This season was not going to plan at all in fact in my head I was struggling, I had started the season well in America and then hadn’t managed to convert any real (to me) results in Europe at the big races. I had some near misses but a bit of bike trouble here and there had cost me. To round things off just before my crucial two week mid-season training camp in Spain I dislocated my shoulder at the Roubaix round of the World Cup. This left me in a sling for five days and not allowed to ride outside for a total of eleven days, when I did get back on the bike it was a further three weeks until I could ride off road again. I had some tough decisions to make with how the rest of my season would play out so decided to come home and spend the time off the bike with family and friends back in the UK. Once I was able to train again I put everything into the time I had left to get myself ready for the National Champs, due to my injury I decided to skip the heavy race period in Belgium over Christmas gambling away a lot of start money for the hope I would be fit for Nationals and to give my shoulder the extra time needed for it to be 100%. Returning too early could have led to another dislocation and for sure the end of my season. I had to be sensible and with the helpful advice of those around me in hindsight I definitely made the correct decisions. Spending Christmas and New year at home was a pleasant change from the norm and I made full use of it training hard in a happy environment.
Finally race day came, Bradford had been good to me in the past and it is where I won my first National Trophy in Hargroves colours! The muddy slippery conditions suited me down to the ground and having been able to travel up well in advance and stay with my girlfriend’s family all week in a super relaxed environment made a big difference. I knew a good start would be crucial and so it proved, I followed my ever fast starting team mate Jody Crawforth off the line. At this point I would like to say I think Jody’s ride at the weekend got seriously over looked having been back on the back for only two and a half weeks coming back from a broken leg for me this was one of the rides of the day in such strength sapping conditions. After only a couple of corners I made my way past Jody and he said for me to go as we already had a slight gap. I pressed on for the next half a lap to establish a gap and to see what was happening behind, in the slippery conditions I prefer to be out in front and picking my own line through the corners. I could also dictate the pace from here. I was riding technically well and so was forcing the issue on the off camber sections and fast turns of the course trying to make up what I call free time in the non pedalling sections.
My lead started to grow steadily lap after lap then the first challenger from the chase group showed his hand. David Fletcher escaped the chase group and obviously got his head down to try and bridge across, I know David from my MTB days and I know the talent he has. You don’t podium at a Junior MTB Worlds without it. He closed the gap from 30secs down to around 15 before I started to hurt myself on some of the long drags the course had. The gap started to go out again and I could relax slightly. Just as the course was beginning to make itself felt in my legs the next chaser launched themselves into action. Ian Bibby, the guy is coming off a full European road season with a pro conti team he is going to have strength and speed in abundance and being a previous Cross National Champion was always going to be a big threat and despite not having done much Cross I knew before the start he would be a main rival. I dug in but still the gap fell, it got to 9secs at one point and I was just about to sit up with a lap to go and have a few deep breaths when after the off camber downhill section suddenly the gap had increased again. I hammered the remaining part of the lap up the long road climb staying out of the saddle all the way up forcing myself to go harder just in case I slipped up in the last half a lap. I didn’t. I had time to celebrate in front of a noisy and good size crowd taking the win by just under half a minute by the end over Bibby who pulled out a classy ride. I was relieved, Job done. Happy.
There are literally so many people to thank especially this season. Parents, Mark, Nat, Harry and family, Nick founding member of the supporters club, Colonel training partner and friend, Smiler security and head coach, my poor Girlfriend Annabel who has to put up with my stress, Mark Walker for all his training advice and scientific knowledge. Jim and Simon for being there.
All the sponsors play a massive role in making this possible year after year Hargroves Cycles, Trant, Chapmans, Elliotts, Next communications, pace electrical services, Warwick Martel, Specialized, Shimano, Kalas, Prendas, Pro, Selle San Marco, Finish Line, High 5, Challenge tires and MD Flooring make up one of the most successful teams in the UK which I am very proud to be apart of.
Here is to another 12months in the UK National Champions Jersey!!
It really didn’t take long for me to get itchy feet again and get out on the bike after the end of the season. I did manage two weeks of total rest from the bike, I spent these weeks with my family, catching up with friends and spending a lot of much needed time with my Girlfriend. Sometimes it’s nice not to be a bike rider, eat what you want, drink what you want and do what you want without the nagging feeling of’ is this going to affect my next training session or even build up to affect my next race or big target of the season’. I remained active in these two weeks and walked further in one day in the Yorkshire Dales than I probably walked in the whole of the Cross season, weirdly enough I enjoyed it! Shopping in Leeds, eating out on plenty of occasions and a messy night out in Newcastle was among the highlights of my two weeks. The third week involved starting my gym work and trying to get my legs to go round in a circle again. Whenever you restart in the gym it’s painful and this time was no different, working to a new programme though it wasn’t as bad as previous years, thank God. Bike riding remained very much a social activity, riding my MTB with mates and enjoying getting back on the bike with plenty of café stops; in fact I didn’t complete a ride without at least one stop per ride.
At the end of my time off was one of my Bi-annual visits to my sponsors HQ aka Hargroves Cycles towers. This was combined with a team launch, where the whole team came together for an evening to pick up new kit, have the obligatory team photo and head shots taken and discuss plans with the team. It was great to meet up with everyone on the team and hear what everyone had planned for the upcoming summer and hear of tales from the past winter. I had a meeting with Pete Hargroves himself and the Specialized team marketing head honcho to put together plans for next season already. It’s always an exciting time discussing plans for new bikes and equipment while putting into place a race programme where obviously my goals will be set into. It gives me a real black and white picture of why and what training I have to do over the next 5months to turn those dreams into reality. It might sound strange but I like having outside pressures put on me to succeed and although the team never really do this, just from hearing how much time and money people are putting into the team really drives me on to achieve. I’ve always been a bit of a team player but been frustrated doing team sports because of being let down by other players so this scenario is perfect for me. I can’t reveal all on what special stuff I will have next season just yet but I’m very excited already and I’m sure you will love everything when you see it.
Before properly getting back on the bike it was time to go and pick up a new powertap system for me to train with. This was very kindly set up by Mark Walker who I have been in contact with for a couple of years now, Mark is so enthusiastic about Cross and knows his stuff when it comes to the science behind riding a bike fast. He’s is currently working on power output data during Cross races and as I helped with this I in turn receive all the numbers back in an easy to understand way. I’m hoping by training with the powertap throughout the summer I can really make the most of my training and take another step forward to my goals. I know this is only an aid and I’m the first to say it doesn’t matter what the computer says it matter how fast you go and how many races you win.
Two weeks of riding with the powertap had passed and it was time to do a power test, it’s never nice doing one of these but especially not when you are unfit having 3 weeks off. It had to be done though and I got the relevant data from it to move forward and start using the powertap in the correct way. It was also time to stop just trying to get the legs going again and get some miles and strength back into my legs.
Off to Carcassonne I went, with the new partnership between Hargroves Cycles and the UK’s number one women’s team Matrix fitness, myself and Andy Hargroves have joined the ladies training camp for two weeks good weather. The roads here are perfect for that early season training, you can literally go a couple of hours without seeing a car. The roads are undulating with a few 15-20min climbs where you can get stuck in and push on the pedals and carry out specific power work.
On returning from here I have two weeks to get a few more specifics in for my first racing block of the season which kicks off with the Rutland Classic on the 29th April.
33 races done, 500UCI points scored, 1 British Title Won.
Sat here now it feels like it was a long season, which left me both physically and mentally drained but on the other hand it doesn’t seem all that long ago I was sat at the top of a French mountain at the end of 2 week training camp itching to get on the plane to America to start racing another Cross season.
That 2 week training camp really set me up well for the first half of the season, I got off to a flying start in the U.S picking up the much needed UCI points and maybe more importantly I picked up the craft of being able to win a bike race again. I managed to win 2 UCI races while there and also a mid- week night cross, my worst result was actually one of my best a 3rd place in the higher category C1 race at the final weekend in Gloucester bagged me a load of points for the return to Europe but in the process I raced with strong legs and confidence in high quality international field.
On returning to Europe it was a bit like back to reality for me and straight in at the deep end with the first round of the Superprestige series. In hindsight I actually did a pretty good ride here all things considered but at the time I was really disappointed with 22nd position. I was always expecting to struggle with the first few races as jet lag and a bit of fatigue from the training I was doing to make to make sure I carried form further into the season this year held me back slightly. However by the Second round of the World Cup series in the Czech Republic I was starting to feel good and should have bagged myself a top 25 position but I lacked that killer instinct when I needed it.
A goal of mine most years is the Koppenberg Cross, it’s close to my house in Belgium and on the right day the course suits me down to the ground, ever since I first rode it 3 seasons ago now I have always thought I could do well here. It’s one of the toughest Crosses on the calendar and involves a good amount of climbing plus technical skills are needed for the infamous zigzag descent. This seasons conditions were perfect for me, fast but a little slippy to make it a bit more technical on the descent. I had built it up in my head and was ready come race day. It was one of those days where it felt like I was playing a computer game; if I wanted to accelerate round someone I did it just felt easy. I was in 12th moving forward with Bart Wellens who had suffered a bad start; I held his wheel all the way up the climb after 40mins of racing. Then on the descent I slid out on a corner and when it gripped again BAM. My tub had rolled, it’s the first time I have ever rolled a tub. I was more than gutted; it hurt so bad walking back to the van knowing I was pretty much guaranteed a top 12 at the legendary race.
I had to move on quickly and looked forward to my next goal which was the Koksijde round of the World Cup series. It was a dress rehearsal for the World Championships, same course same riders and hopefully a really good opportunity to get everything dialled in for the big day in late January. It went really well and I got my best World Cup result of the year 22nd. I felt super strong and technically really good on the course. It meant I could go away to Spain for 2 weeks at the beginning of December in a positive mood knowing I was at a good level to move forward from for the final part of the season where my main goal of the season was, the British Championships.
The 2 weeks in Spain went really well and I couldn’t have done any more training even if I had wanted to. They were really tough roads, steep long climbs and perfect tarmac made the 5hr rides there hard but enjoyable.
I came straight back to racing in Belgium which is when my back issue’s first arose, I had obviously pushed my body hard in the training camp then on a super tough course at Namen just a few days later was just too much and my back packed up for the first time during the World Cup. From this point on my season was always on a knife edge between having form and having a bad back. I struggled through the Christmas period of racing and got some speed into my legs and technical skills back up to speed just perfect for the British Champs.
The championship races are always a strange one, with so much pressure put on myself by no one else but myself in the past I have always got it wrong. Whether it be getting ill at the wrong time, organisers moving the race due to a bit of snow or simply getting it wrong on the day myself with tactics and managing nerves I had never even been on the senior podium. According to some this made me an outsider, I found this pretty disrespectful and went about the race like any other this season to try and keep things as normal as possible. I was so relaxed compared to previous years and managed to somehow get through the weekend in the right frame of mind and I finally got the senior title I had wanted for sooooooo long.
Having based my whole season from November onwards around the British Champs even the next day I found it hard to get motivated even with the new jersey on my shoulders at a race in Belgium. This was the story of the rest of my season almost; having worked so hard for something for so long I was drained for the remainder of the season. I dug in to pull something out of the bag at the final round of the World cup and the final round of the Superprestige went well but apart from that there really wasn’t much to talk about apart from the UCI ruining my World Champs.
Fair enough I wasn’t having a great ride in 36th place but I was pulled on the 80% rule when I was 1min 30 off being at 80% while just off the back of a group of 6 I had been catching. It seems at some races in Belgium that the organisers don’t care about anyone outside of the top 10 but to be denied racing for a top 30 position at the World Champs due to maths error by a commisaire I was hacked off to say the least.
With the season now behind me I’m glad to be sat here with a free weekend. Getting up and not having to think about going out on my bike if I don’t want to is a nice feeling…. I know this will not last as it never does last long as I will be itching to get out training hard again long before my scheduled break is up! I have so many things to work on for next season to make that next step forward towards being a regular top10-15 rider but I can’t wait for the challenge. I will go into next season a refreshed rider and will wear the National Champs jersey with pride at every race.
It feels good just writing the words I am National Champion.
I left you at the end of my last blog sat on the sofa watching the Superprestige race in Diegem unable to race due to a back injury. I am so glad I did that now, taking things easy then really helped make the difference come national champs day, not a hint of injury was in my mind on the start line and I raced pain free (sort of, my legs were still screaming come the last lap).
After the day of rest on the sofa I was able to get straight back into training the next day with just over an hour sat behind the moped, it felt so good to be out training hard with no real discomfort from my back. I rode the World Cup on Boxing Day but my legs were not really there and I ended up a disappointing 40th. Still I was only just over 4mins down on the winner which is a respectable time gap. I trained hard off the back of this race into the next one, which was a lower key event in Bredene I was really hoping for a much better ride here but once again I finished feeling as though I was lacking something. With not much time between then and the National Champs, in fact only 10days I put my head down and went about changing what was in my legs! This involved going out in the rain and wind and hurting myself a lot, these sort of intervals are never nice practically sprinting for as long as you can then when every part of your body is kicking and screaming telling you to stop you kick again. On one occasion I got to the end of one interval and I had to literally stop and throw up. These are the days that no one see’s but where races are really won.
I only planned a flying visit back to the UK for the Nationals so that everything was as normal as possible in my routine. I travelled back the Friday before with my Girlfriend and we stayed in a little cottage just outside of Ipswich with mechanic Stefan and his wife Helen Wyman (7 times National women’s champ). Saturday morning was spent doing a TV interview; it was a new and really cool experience for me to do this. In a weird kind of way it took my mind of the race as the questions were more about my love of the sport and what is cyclocross rather than all about the race the next day. I finished the interview sweating more than I had in training for a good few days!!! Hopefully the filming done at the National Champs will really help with the future of the sport getting more televised publicity in the UK and I was glad to do my bit.
The afternoon was spent riding the course and getting tub and bike setup perfect for race day. I really liked the course and thought the organisers had done a cracking job with what they had to use at the venue. It wasn’t the toughest course I had ridden but felt like it had enough to break things up and produce a worthy winner.
The night before the race is always a funny one, nervous and excited for the next day’s race means you never sleep that well but usually better than I did. A lot of the night was spent in the bathroom, I’ll spare you the details but I was thinking my race was over before it had even begun. The next morning I felt awful and got on with breakfast as best I could. I tried to keep everything normal but it clearly wasn’t. As the morning went on and I got into my race day routine, I started to feel better, got some good laps in on the course to. I didn’t feel as good as the previous day but I had a job to do and got on with it. In previous years I have been way too nervous come National Champs day so really tried to relax and enjoy the day. Pretty much everyone who knew how much this meant to me was there, my first ever coach Richard Wood who took me to every race between the age of 13 and 17 and who really introduced me to and allowed me to start out racing at the National level was there along with the majority of my family and close friends. They all need a massive thank you for making things as normal as possible on the day and treating me like they always do. My nephew was on his brand new specialized hotwalk being pushed around in a Hargroves top and helped keep the mood light. Bikes were prepped as usual by Stef and the guy who usually takes my jacket at the start had travelled from Belgium with his wife to watch the race!! My Girlfriend ran around getting things for me and generally helping out which was a big help as very often the smallest thing can annoy me before big races.
There isn’t too much to say about the race, you can read my race report on my website for this but it went according to plan and most importantly I won!
As you can tell from reports on various websites it meant the world to me to finally win the National title. However I didn’t have long to celebrate, a little while after the race talking with everyone and thanking so many people before a quick drive back to Belgium for the Otegem race the following day. My head and heart wasn’t really in the right place for it as you can imagine but I tried to get on with the race as best I could and rode round finishing in the early 20’s and collecting my start money.
It’s never a nice feeling not doing your best in a race especially as it was my first outing in the National Champs jersey (the original podium version) but I can forgive myself given the circumstances. Two days later my Skinsuit turned up from Hargroves cycles and Kalas, it looks so cool and pretty classy if you ask me. The rest of my kit was taken to the World cup the following Saturday, not a bad turn around on a full set of kit if you ask me!!!
I don’t often use my blogs as a thank you to sponsors but on this occasion I have to,
Pete Hargroves (Hargroves cycles) who has backed me for the last 4-5years, Specialized Crux frames, Shimano components, Pro bars and stems, Kalas kit, Dugust and Specialized tubs, Specialized shoes and helmets, Prendas Accessories, Trant, Next, Elliots, and MD Flooring for backing the team this season.
Next up will be my blog regarding the lead up and including the World Championships in koksijde, Belgium at the end of this month.
[Insert generic quote about tough times making the good times even better]
Whenever there is a long gap between me writing blogs it usually means I have been really busy training and racing hard. This time is no different!
I ended the last blog on the disappointment of the Koppenberg Cross and as I mentioned next up would be the Superprestige at Hamme. I got a really good weeks training in between the two races and morale was high as my Girlfriend was able to come and visit for just over a week. Being away from friends and family the majority of the year is hard so when you do get to see them it really makes a difference. Even the 5mins before the start of the world cup at Kokisjde with my Brother, sister in law, best mate from school and my little Nephew really gave me a boost before the race.
Hamme went ok; it was the fastest Cross of the year averaged nearly 30kph which is pretty outrageous when you take into consideration the dead turns and the fact you were off and running up steps twice a lap! I managed to slot comfortably into the second group and was moving through the group nicely into the top 20 when there was a crash in the group and I was heavily baulked. I chased hard for the remainder of the race but ended up a slightly disappointed 22nd. My minimum goal in this these races remains’ top 20 (on the results list at the end of the coverage on TV).
Another hard weeks training in the tank between Hamme and the local classic Gavere was really good and the weather was still holding! Mid November and I was training without gloves and no thermal jacket needed. It makes those longer rides so much more enjoyable not having to dress so you look like the Michelin man just to stop yourself freezing to death on a 3hour ride. Gavere is a super tough course with plenty of technical descents and hard climbing each lap, right up my street. I felt really good warming up on the course and got a really good start riding into the top 20 on the first lap then on a small steep bank there was a crash ahead of me, I went to go round it and one of the riders pushed their bike straight into my front wheel ripping out a spoke and leaving the front wheel rather buckled. I limped to the pits and changed bikes. I was back in the low 30’s feeling hard done by. I could have given up and spat my dummy out but I put my head down and tried to see what I could do. Like always with an extra bit of adrenaline inside you I went deep trying to catch up, a little too deep. It left me struggling towards the end of the race and I ended up 18th. I was so frustrated, once again a bit of bad luck had put pay to a top 15 at another big race. I have a rule with racing though, I allow myself to be grumpy for the remainder of that day then when I wake up in the morning it’s behind me and a new week is ahead where I can make a difference for the next race.
This next race just so happened to be Koksijde World cup, with no world cup in the UK this is the closest it gets! Only 45mins from the Eurotunnel plenty of Brits make the journey every year. It makes it really special for me and all the British riders competing there. Along with the fact the course is legendary with huge sand sections which were even deeper this year due to the lack of rain. In parts of Belgium it hadn’t rained for an amazing 51 days!!! Belgium, no rain, 51days!!! I left nothing to chance though, the Wednesday before the race I went up to the course and did 3hours of practise. I hate to think how many laps I totalled but it would have been a lot. I started off struggling then hit a golden patch of being able to ride the majority of sand sections finally as I tired I moved back to the struggling phase! When this happened I called it a day and drove home, content no one had done more than me that day. With the World Champs being on exactly the same course as the World cup it had even more riding on it than usual, it’s not often you get a dress rehearsal for the world champs just 2months before.
I got a really good start and my training in the week really paid off, for the first time on the Koksijde course I felt good. With so many people shouting my name it felt good to re pay them with a top 25 finish (my goal at this year’s World Cups) I actually finished 22nd one of my best world cup results ever. I was so pleased and this leaves me in a really positive frame of mind for the world champs come January. I finished the race absolutely knackered. A very long wait in dope control ensued as I sat there downing bottle after bottle of water. Eventually I was able to leave and start the long journey north to the following days Superprestige which was in northern Holland, Gieten.
Sometimes I really do wonder about the Cross calendar in Europe and think it is designed with no thought what’s so ever. 4.5hrs sat in a van straight after a race isn’t the best way to recover from an hour of full on cross racing especially as I didn’t get to warm down after the Koksijde race. I reached the hotel in Holland just before midnight, showered and jumped into bed legs still twitching from that last lap in the sand dunes.
The following days Superprestige was super slippy and tough going. All morning my back felt a bit dodgy. Come the race it totally locked up and anyone who knows about bad backs will know once this happens you have no power coming out of your legs. I called it a day with 2 laps to go. I hate pulling out of races but sometimes as a Pro you have to keep the bigger picture in mind.
The following morning I flew early to Malaga, Spain. 2 weeks of unbelievable weather and great training on tough roads began. I went there in good form and looked to build upon that hopefully making another step up the ladder. I felt good for 2 weeks and did some really good riding completing some really tough days out which just wouldn’t have been possible staying in Belgium especially as soon as we left the weather began to turn cold and wet.
I returned a few days before the World cup round in Namen, Belgium. Another course which is usually right up my street. I was well up for it! I started well and settled in, looking to move forward over the first few laps but suddenly the back pain was back, really hurting when I got off the bike and tried to run. With three steep run ups a lap I was really struggling. Not wanting to pull out I eased off the pedals and cruised a full lap dropping into the late 40’s finally my back began to ease and I could start racing again. I put in some top 25 lap times towards the end and got back to 37th. Once again I can sum the day up as frustrating. When I could actually use my legs they were good!!
With so much racing coming up over the Christmas period it was my first priority to get things sorted a deep tissue trigger point massage and a Chiro appointment later I’m sat here on the day of the Superprestige in Diegem unable to race. However I’m allowed to train hard tomorrow and race the next round of the world cup in Zolder, Belgium on Monday. Yep that’s right I spend Christmas day pre riding a world cup course then the evening in a random hotel. Hopefully my body will allow me to race full on at the world cup and another top 25 is on the cards.
“Tough times are there so you can have a good time later on– and really appreciate it!”
Until next time, Fieldy.
What have I been up to since my last blog?!… 6 races in 3.5 weeks along with 2300 miles in a car while trying to fit in enough training to compete at the highest level of Cyclocross in the World and to top it all I went into this block with jetlag!
A fine balance is needed which is why I find myself turning down two contracts to race this weekend in Belgium. I hate turning down contracts not just because of the financial reasons but because if an organiser of an event is willing to pay me to ride I like to reward them by turning up. However a weekend off is very much an integral part of the bigger picture. The season ends at the end of February and two of my goals for the year are in January. If I am going to make it to then with my sanity and fitness where it should be I have to be sensible now.
The 6 races were in 3 different countries and pretty much went according to plan apart from the obvious mishaps along the way. First race back was the Superprestige in Ruddervoorde, Belgium a shockingly bad start left me a lot to do with jetlagged legs. I ended up 23rd a respectable position all things considered!
Next up was the opening World Cup in Plzen, Czech Republic. The 9hr drive wasn’t as bad as usual as I had the company of ex US postal pro and all round good guy Jamie Burrow with me riding shotgun and occasionally helping out with the driving duties. However for the sake of my van it was best I did the majority of driving! Jamie had never driven a right hand drive vehicle until it was pitch black somewhere in the middle of Germany, the gears were an issue. The travelling left me lacking something come race day and I ended the race pretty disappointed in 35th place. On reflection this is probably where I should have finished after a hard weeks training and long drive I shouldn’t have expected too much. Each year the standard at World Cups definitely increases and this year is no exception, with more and more riders focusing on Cross maybe not the very top but that next echelon of riders are getting faster and faster.
The next week was spent in the Czech Republic in a rented apartment in literally the middle of nowhere. The training was awesome and the weather really helped our cause, apart from one day where I and Helen Wyman were caught out in a hail storm trying to do our sprints session and needed to stop in a café for coffee to warm up, all was carried out in crisp sunshine. All week I had felt pretty good in training and had been going deep during my efforts which is usually a good sign I’m fresher and going well. Tabor was the second World Cup and a course I really like, it’s hard. Unlike the previous week of thinking the race is over at the end of the first lap I relaxed and just concentrated on holding my position on the first lap. It worked perfectly and it left me feeling good come the second and third laps where I was able to pick people off who had gone too hard. I worked myself nicely into 23rd place where I made the first mistake of the day. I didn’t carry on driving hard at the front of the group I was in and instead ended up getting in a battle as opposed to racing as fast as I possibly could. This is just a confidence thing of not caring some big czecho is sat on your wheel and getting on with the job knowing you are better and will eventually drop them. Come the last lap and I made my second mistake, I didn’t lead into the climb where I had been strongest all day and instead found myself getting swamped by the rest of the group and finishing 27th knowing I should have been better. However this in terms of how I rode was a vast improvement on the previous week. This is my third season of World Cups and I am still learning so much about how to race them it’s crazy. I can’t imagine I will ever stop learning something while racing against the best guys in the world and I love it!
About 5hours driving straight after the race to a hotel somewhere in Germany wasn’t ideal but it had to be done I was racing again Tuesday night in Northern Holland! Monday was spent in the car finishing off the rest of the 12hr journey.
Nacht Van Woerden is now a regular on my race calendar each year and so it’s not such a big deal now starting at 9.45pm however my body still doesn’t like it much. This year it had rained all day and the course was unbelievably slick, I tried so many different tyre pressures and kept ending up sliding out and feeling like an amateur. In the end I opted for the lowest pressure I think I have ever run during a cross race. Something around 15psi. The first corner was on tarmac and at 40kph it was interesting to say the least, but on the off road corners I felt so much better and comfy in the line of riders on the first lap. I was in 13th and moving forward. However the travel and World cup just two days earlier took its toll on the majority of riders who had been there and I was no exception. I slipped backwards and eventually ended in 17th. Another top 20 for the palmares but once again could have been better. This is beginning to sound like my school reports, could do better!!
I had the luxury of 4 days to recover before the next race and that’s exactly what I did, a few easy days was just what I needed if I was going to achieve my goals of another top 20 at Zonhoven and a top 15 at the legendary Koppenberg. Both courses are so hard, both physically and technically which is why I like racing them so much.
This year they had made Zonhoven even harder with more sand sections and more height gain per lap. It kind of ruined it a little bit for a spectator’s point of view because only after a few laps everyone apart from the front three were on their knees and riding the majority of sections pretty slowly. No one wants to watch riders come through minutes apart and going slow. Sounds like an old school mountain bike race! I paced myself well and with a big effort on the last lap managed to get myself a top 20 finish coming in 18th.
Koppenberg cross, anyone who has been to this before or who has even seen the pictures of the crowds at this event each year knows it a biggy! It’s approx. 3KM from my front door in Belgium and I often train past the infamous climb giving it a quick glance thinking all the time about racing the Cross there come next season. Good start, great second lap and I was on for a top 15 in 12th position. I got caught by a slow starting Bart Wellens on the 4th lap and went with him on the off road climb pulling away comfortable from his team mate and regular top 15’er Rob Peeters. I was living a boy hood dream flying down the Koppenberg on Wellens’s wheel even thinking to myself I can beat him as he looked on the limit, everywhere.
Big slide, I held it. In hindsight I wish I had fallen off because by managing to keep it upright the rear wheel gripped again and popped the rear tub off the rim. It’s the first time I have ever rolled a tub and hopefully the last. My mechanic was more distraught than me. For me that’s Cross racing, if things were plain and simple (easy) the sport really wouldn’t appeal to me. I’ll eventually move on and put it behind me but for the moment it still hurts. Wellens went on to finish 11th, I truly believe that would have been my finishing position but hey we will never know.
For now I’m throwing myself hard into the next phase of training in Belgium and hopefully I’ll deliver when I am next supposed to!
My next actual race is the Superprestige in Hamme Zogge, it’s not a goal of mine but whenever I put a number on my back I always want to do well!
Until next time….
Starting date: 7th September
Time period: 26 days
Goal: To score 150 UCI points over the course of six (five to count) C2 races and one C1 event.
At the end of last season I knew to move forward as a ‘Cross rider I had to change things. Last season if I made a good start then I pretty much always got a good result, if I got boxed in at the start and had to try and work my way through it was game over. I’d like to point out at this point it’s not because I was riding poorly it’s just the strength in depth at races means when you’re lying in 40th at a World Cup you might think the riders are of a poor quality. They’re not, it’s hard to overtake and even harder to drop them. If you do get past to make up the 40seconds you’ve lost to a rider your usually battling with is impossible. How could I guarantee a good start at every race? Better gridding. This meant a points chase, it’s not a strange thing to me coming from a MTB background where the same problem exists for up and coming riders at World Cups. So it was set I needed to find races where I would be scoring points on a regular basis. Either come home once a month for National trophy events or go to America for the start of the season and hopefully bank a load of points before the actual season really kicks off in Europe. No offence to the National trophies but America sounded a bit more glamorous and the points scored would kick in straight away after the first update to the UCI World Ranking after the opening round of the World Cup series in Plzen, Czech Republic.
With the extra backing from Hargroves Cycles this season with the addition of Specialized to the team sponsors, I got the nod to go ahead with the plan. Without Stefan Wyman and the help of some many people in the U.S the trip would have never got off the ground let alone have gone as smoothly as it did. Thankyou.
Here goes then, 26 days in a few paragraphs!!
Bed, café, car, airport, plane, airport, air-train, taxi, hotel, taxi, bus, car, hotel, arrive first race in the U.S Nittany Lions ‘cross Allenstown, PA. Day one was a C2 event so a possible 40points for the win up for grabs. Having travelled so far I didn’t know what the competition was going to be like until I turned up on the line to find the infamous Jeremy Powers of rapha/focus, Tom Van Den Bosch of AA drinks and Fabio Ursi of Italy. All three guys I know pretty well from Europe where they compete a lot of the time. The first race of the season is always a bit of an unknown but I knew I had put in the hours of training needed and set about my job. 2nd place behind powers was a good start to the trip, 30points in the bag. The following day was a national event but it was a good chance to get another hour in on my new Specialized crux elite at high speed. With Powers having gone home I was in the lead with half a lap to go when some loose course marking tape jumped into my cassette making it impossible for me to pedal with any kind of wattage without the chain skipping. Another 2nd place, this time behind Tom VDB.
The following weekend was my favourite of the trip, Charm city ‘cross Baltimore. With a C2 both days a possible 80points could be had. 1st day one and 2nd day two, 70 points secured and my first real experience of American racing. The fans added a real something to the event with their heckling of riders during the race. Both days I had felt really good on the bike and my convincing win on the Saturday probably was my down fall Sunday. Having ridden away easily on day one I was happy to ride day two with Tom VDB on my wheel however after 5 laps of him sitting on he attacked and I was left trying to close a 10second gap until the end. You live and learn.
The third weekend was going to be tough. Day one was in Burlington, VT and day two was Rochester, NY about 7hours car journey away, add to this the fact Nicolas Bazin of France was on the start sheet for both days I knew I had my work cut out. Bazin is a regular top 15 World Cup finisher and has come most years to a National trophy event and wiped the floor with everyone. The setting for the first day was out of this world on a sandy beach overlooking a lake the size of Wales it was a great setting for the epic race. Heavy overnight rain had turned the course from a fast sandy based affair to a deep mud slog where in parts running along the flat wasn’t uncommon. In past seasons I have struggled with these conditions through lack of deep down strength so wasn’t particularly looking forward to the prospect of getting my head kicked in. In the end I had nothing to worry about and dominated the race from start to finish more or less always leading the front trio of riders until the final lap where I managed to get rid of first Bazin then Tom VDB. Winner. After the heavy race and super long car journey my legs didn’t enjoy the first lap the following day. However I nearly did the double and if it hadn’t of been for bazin’s superior road strength and a small slip from me I would have. In a long drawn out sprint for the last half a lap he got the better of me. These two days of points scoring had taken me to 170 points with a whole weekend of racing to go.
After a midweek win in Lancaster, MA at a national event it was onto Gloucester, MA. The first race was the C1 of the trip, this meant big points on offer and a real chance to make a difference as I doubt I will have many podium opportunities for the rest of the season in Belgium at this standard of race. Being a C1 all the top Americans apart from Ryan Trebon were there, including Christian Heule of Switzerland, Ben Berden of Belgium and again Bazin. Continuing the theme of the trip I got a good start and set about making a race of it. No names being mentioned but some guys obviously didn’t want to race for the full hour and so wouldn’t work with me when we had a gap early on, this only frustrated me and wanted to beat them even more. I ended up 3rd 10seconds behind Powers and Heule in a sprint finish with Berden. 40 points scored happy days. The following day was another C2 so I had to score the win to improve on my points tally as I had already scored in five C2 events on the trip. I put everything in early on to close a gap that had opened up to the early leader and paid for it big time by 3 laps to go. I was in a safe 6th and still pedalling circles just when a kid ran out into the track just as I was sprinting out of a downhill corner. I knew from a long way out what was going to happen but it was still a shock to actually hit him and end up on the floor. It took me a while to get up but when I did I told the young lad exactly what I thought had just happened and why it had happened. I got back on my bike and continued round to the pits but my knee was swelling and as only the win would improve my points tally I decided not to risk anything and stop. It was a disappointing way to end the trip but I guess just one of those freak accidents that I hope I never experience again.
Car, airport, plane, airport, train, car, home.
210 UCI points collected. Mission completed.
Next up: My return to Belgium and the start of my European campaign.
Since my last blog a lot has happened in my world.
First up was the Superprestige in Zonhoven. I rode really well on the uber tough sandy course and picked up another top 20, eventually finishing 16th. I was really pleased as I don’t get to race in sand much and it shows I have the needed skills to compete well in those conditions which until that race I hadn’t really believed I could. After such a hard race all I could think about was getting home to my bed and sleeping for a week but the race organisers this year thought it a good idea to hold the infamous Koppenberg cross the very next day. Renowned for being hard even in dry conditions my legs were screaming at the thought of having to get my body and bike to the top of the climb each lap.
This year to make things worse there was mud, mud and more mud. Not wet wet which you could splash through but thick sticky mud that dragged you down and eventually stopped you even on the flat sections let alone the steep uphill section nearing the top of the main climb. I only completed one sighting lap all day to try and save some energy for the race and went into the race with an unusual race plan of trying to ride well within myself for the first 40mins. I got a really good start and moved up really well on the cobbles I was nearing the top 15 just before the vital turn off the cobbles onto the off road section when I got pushed off the cobbles onto the grass at the side of the climb. I lost valuable time and places trying to get back on the course. I settled down and tried to put it behind me. I was cruising around in the late 20′s when my legs started to feel stronger and stronger. I don’t know if this was because I was catching people fast or I was actually going faster but either way I was starting to move up the placings. But the end of the race I had managed to get up to 21st and starting to wonder what I could have done without the mishap early on…..
A few easy days were needed now so I gladly took these! After this was a rare weekend off for me so I knuckled down and got some well needed hours in on the bike culminating in an epic 6hour ride on my own in the cold and eventually darkness of the Belgian countryside. There is a deep satisfaction you get from completing some hard training blocks and I felt this after the weekends exploits.
A few easy days and next was a mid week race in Niel. My day started badly and got worse. I woke up and got out of bed as usual only to nearly fall over while trying to make my way to the stairs. I didn’t think too much of it and carried on my day, maybe I got up too quickly, but started to feel worse and worse as the day went on. Never one to make excuses or want to pull out of a race I carried on and told no one how I was feeling. The race was a mudfest and really hard work, just what I needed feeling the way I did. I started but climbed off after 40mins, my head and legs were not in it! I got home and feeling pretty sorry for myself went straight to bed. With 2 more races coming up the following weekend I couldn’t afford to be ill right then so a good night’s sleep was well needed. I woke the next morning and felt even worse, a banging headache along with vertigo didn’t leave me feeling great.
To cut 12 days down into a few sentences, I had a banging headache and dizziness for this entire time. I tried lots of different old wives tales and medication prescribed to me by my confused doctor but none of it was working. After a trip to hospital to check for an ear or eye problem I came back none the wiser apart from ‘it could be something to do with my neck!’ Massage and acupuncture was tried in a desperate hope to try and loosen something off in time for the local race in Asper Gavere. I had already missed two races and was getting fed up so bit the bullet and turned up to race after nearly two weeks off the bike at least I was fresh! I got a cracking start and rode around in 6th for half a lap but that’s about as good as it got. I was having tunnel vision and my head was banging even harder on the cruel climb. To top things off I snapped my rear mech off on the 3rd lap so went home early.
By this stage I was really pissed off and feeling even worse. Finally I got a chiropractor appointment as my last hope!! Within 30secs of walking into his surgery the chiropractor had diagnosed the problems and a few minutes later had cured me of my headache! It was a nerve trapped in my neck from sleeping funny…… I could have been annoyed at it being such a stupid problem but I was just relieved and thankful that I was starting to feel better.
2 days later was the World Cup in Koksijde. Lots of British fans were making the trip over and I was really excited to be back racing without any head issues. I knew I wouldn’t;t be going great after the previous few weeks but thought with a bit of luck I might be able to blag it. No such luck one broken wheel after 250m then a broken saddle after a bike change led to me getting pulled on the 80% ruling with 2 laps to go. I was really really frustrated and was starting to wonder what I had done in a previous life that was so bad to have to endure this kind of luck.
I made my way back to the UK that evening and down to Southampton for the Hargroves National Trophy event. It was a great opportunity to pick up some valuable UCI points however I wasn’t that hopeful with my run of luck the way it was. I tried to put everything behind me and get on with the job I had to do. Somehow I pulled it out of the back and had one of those days when I couldn’t put a foot wrong. I won by 9secs and was super comfy throughout the race. 40UCI pointsthank you very much.
I have stayed in the UK since then and tried to do as much training as I could possible fit in around this Arctic weather the south east corner of the UK is experiencing. Hopefully the worst of it is over now and my turbo can cool down a bit!
Next up is the Bradford National Trophy, I am really looking forward to racing again in the UK and showing everyone back here what I can do. Another 40UCI points would be really nice and move me forward significantly on the grid at the World Cups which are coming up when I head back to Belgium.